All You Need to Know about Dioscorea Elephantipes

Dioscorea elephantipes, commonly known as the elephant’s foot or turtle back plant, is a unique and unusual succulent belonging to the family Dioscoreaceae.

This plant is native to the arid regions of South Africa, particularly in the Cape Province.

How to grow and take care of Dioscorea Elephantipes?

While it may seem challenging to grow, with proper care and attention, you can successfully cultivate and maintain this plant. Here are some guidelines to help you grow and take care of Dioscorea elephantipes:

  1. Light and temperature:
    • Place your Elephant’s Foot plant in a location that receives bright indirect sunlight. Avoid exposing it to direct sunlight as it can cause sunburn.
    • Maintain a temperature range of 65-80°F (18-27°C). Protect the plant from extreme temperature fluctuations and cold drafts.
  2. Watering:
    • Water the plant moderately during the active growing season, which is typically spring and summer. Allow the soil to dry out partially between waterings to prevent overwatering.
    • Reduce watering during the plant’s dormant period in fall and winter. During this time, water sparingly, ensuring the soil doesn’t completely dry out.
    • Be cautious not to overwater, as excessive moisture can cause root rot and other issues. It’s better to underwater than to overwater this succulent.
  3. Soil:
    • Plant your Dioscorea elephantipes in well-draining soil. A cactus or succulent mix enriched with perlite or pumice works well.
    • Good drainage is crucial to prevent waterlogged soil and root rot. Ensure the pot has drainage holes, and excess water can freely escape.
  4. Humidity:
    • Elephant’s Foot plants prefer low to moderate humidity levels. Average indoor humidity should be sufficient, but avoid excessively dry or humid environments.
  5. Fertilizer:
    • Feed the plant with a balanced, diluted fertilizer during the active growing season, following the instructions on the fertilizer packaging.
    • Apply the fertilizer sparingly, about once a month. Avoid fertilizing during the plant’s dormant period.
  6. Potting and repotting:
    • Choose a container with adequate drainage that allows the plant some room to grow. Dioscorea elephantipes prefers slightly crowded conditions.
    • Repot the plant only when necessary, typically every few years or when the pot becomes too small. Spring is the ideal time for repotting.
  7. Pruning and maintenance:
    • Elephant’s Foot plants require minimal pruning. Remove any dead or damaged leaves as necessary to maintain the plant’s overall health and appearance.
    • Be cautious of the plant’s caudex (the swollen base resembling an elephant’s foot) while handling to prevent damage.
  8. Dormancy:
    • Dioscorea elephantipes has a natural dormancy period, typically occurring in fall and winter. During this time, the plant may shed its leaves.
    • Reduce watering and allow the soil to dry out more between waterings while the plant is dormant. Avoid fertilizing during this period.
  9. Propagation:
    • Propagating Dioscorea elephantipes can be challenging. The plant produces tubers or offsets that can be separated and planted.
    • Ensure the tubers or offsets are dry and calloused before planting them in a well-draining soil mix. Water sparingly until new growth appears.

Remember, Dioscorea elephantipes is a slow-growing plant, and it may take time for noticeable growth. Patience and consistent care will help you create an ideal environment for your Elephant’s Foot succulent.

What is the lifespan of Dioscorea Elephantipes?

Under optimal conditions and given the right care, it is not uncommon for Dioscorea elephantipes to live for 50 years or more. Some well-maintained specimens have been reported to live for over a century.

However, it’s important to note that the growth rate of Dioscorea elephantipes is relatively slow, and it may take many years for the plant to reach maturity. Additionally, individual plants may vary in their lifespan, and factors such as diseases, pests, or improper care can affect their longevity.

By providing the appropriate conditions, regular maintenance, and proper care, you can help extend the lifespan of your Dioscorea elephantipes and enjoy its unique beauty for many years to come.

How to water it?

Watering Dioscorea elephantipes requires a careful balance to prevent overwatering or underwatering, as both can be detrimental to the plant’s health. Here are some guidelines to help you water your Elephant’s Foot succulent:

  1. Watering frequency: During the active growing season, which is typically spring and summer, water your Dioscorea elephantipes when the top inch (2.5 cm) of soil feels dry. Stick your finger into the soil to assess its moisture level. If it feels dry at that depth, it’s time to water.
  2. Watering technique: When watering, thoroughly moisten the soil until water drains out of the pot’s drainage holes. This ensures that the entire root system receives water. Allow any excess water to drain away completely.
  3. Avoid overwatering: One of the most common mistakes with Dioscorea elephantipes is overwatering. The plant is adapted to survive in arid conditions, and its tuberous base stores water for extended periods. Overwatering can lead to root rot and other issues. Always err on the side of underwatering rather than overwatering.
  4. Reduce watering during dormancy: During the plant’s dormant period in fall and winter, when it may shed its leaves, reduce the frequency and amount of water. Water sparingly, allowing the soil to dry out more between waterings. Be cautious not to let the soil completely dry out, as it can cause stress to the plant.
  5. Test the soil moisture: Regularly check the moisture level of the soil by inserting your finger into the soil or using a moisture meter. If the soil feels damp or moist, hold off on watering. Only water when the top inch of soil is dry.
  6. Adjust watering based on environmental conditions: Factors such as temperature, humidity, and the size of the pot can affect the watering needs of your plant. Higher temperatures and lower humidity may require more frequent watering, while cooler temperatures and higher humidity may necessitate less frequent watering.
  7. Use well-draining soil: Ensure the plant is potted in well-draining soil that allows excess water to flow out freely. This helps prevent waterlogged conditions and promotes healthy root growth. A cactus or succulent mix enriched with perlite or pumice is suitable.

Remember, it’s better to underwater Dioscorea elephantipes than to overwater it. The plant has adapted to withstand periods of drought, and it’s more tolerant of dry conditions than excessive moisture. Observing the plant closely and adjusting your watering schedule accordingly will help maintain the health of your Elephant’s Foot succulent.

How to prune it?

Pruning Dioscorea elephantipes, or Elephant’s Foot/Turtle Vine, is generally minimal and primarily focuses on removing dead or damaged leaves. Here’s a guide on how to prune your Dioscorea elephantipes:

  1. Remove dead or yellowing leaves: As part of the plant’s natural growth cycle, older leaves may die or turn yellow. These leaves can be removed by gently pulling them off or using clean pruning shears. Removing dead leaves helps maintain the plant’s overall appearance and prevents the risk of disease or pests.
  2. Trim damaged or diseased portions: If you notice any sections of the plant that are damaged or affected by disease, it’s best to remove them promptly. Use sterile pruning shears to make clean cuts just above the healthy tissue. Disinfect your pruning tools before and after each use to prevent the spread of diseases.
  3. Prune for shaping (optional): While Dioscorea elephantipes generally has a naturally attractive form, you can shape it slightly if desired. However, keep in mind that excessive pruning can disrupt the plant’s growth and its unique caudex (swollen base). If you do choose to shape the plant, prune with caution and ensure you maintain its natural appearance.
  4. Pruning during dormancy: During the plant’s dormant period in fall and winter, it’s common for Dioscorea elephantipes to shed its leaves. At this time, you may notice a more significant leaf loss. You can prune off the remaining dry or dead leaves to tidy up the plant’s appearance. Remember to reduce watering during this period as well.
  5. Handle with care: When pruning or handling Dioscorea elephantipes, be cautious of the caudex, as it is delicate and prone to damage. Avoid excessive pressure or twisting that could harm the plant’s unique structure.

Remember that Dioscorea elephantipes is a slow-growing plant, and minimal pruning is generally sufficient. Keeping up with regular maintenance and removing any dead or damaged foliage will help keep your Elephant’s Foot succulent healthy and visually appealing.

How big does Dioscorea Elephantipes grow?

Dioscorea elephantipes, also known as Elephant’s Foot or Turtle Vine, is a unique succulent plant with distinctive growth characteristics. Here’s some information about its typical size and growth:

  1. Caudex size: The most notable feature of Dioscorea elephantipes is its enlarged caudex, which resembles an elephant’s foot. The caudex can grow to impressive sizes and is often the focal point of the plant’s appearance. In some mature specimens, the caudex can reach diameters of 1 foot (30 cm) or more.
  2. Vine-like growth: Along with the caudex, Dioscorea elephantipes produces slender, climbing vines that can grow up to several feet in length. These vines are usually thin and tend to reach out and explore the surrounding area.
  3. Leaf size: The leaves of Dioscorea elephantipes are typically medium-sized, with individual leaves ranging from 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) in length. The leaves are palmate, meaning they have multiple lobes resembling the fingers of a hand.

It’s important to note that the growth rate of Dioscorea elephantipes is relatively slow. It can take several years or even decades for the plant to reach its maximum size. Additionally, the size of the plant can be influenced by various factors, including growing conditions, available space, and the age of the plant.

With proper care, including suitable lighting, watering, and nutrition, your Dioscorea elephantipes can gradually grow and develop into an impressive specimen. However, keep in mind that each individual plant may have its own growth pattern and may not reach the maximum size observed in other specimens.

Which soil is the best for growing it?

The best soil for growing Dioscorea elephantipes, or Elephant’s Foot/Turtle Vine, is a well-draining soil mix that replicates its natural growing conditions. Here are some considerations when selecting soil for this succulent plant:

  1. Well-draining soil: It’s crucial to choose a soil mix that provides excellent drainage. This helps prevent waterlogged conditions that can lead to root rot and other problems. Avoid heavy or compacted soils that retain moisture for extended periods.
  2. Cactus or succulent mix: A commercially available cactus or succulent mix is often an ideal choice for Dioscorea elephantipes. These mixes are specifically formulated to provide good drainage while retaining some moisture for the plant’s roots. They typically contain a combination of organic matter and inorganic additives.
  3. Additives for drainage: To further improve drainage, you can enhance the soil mix with additives such as perlite, pumice, or coarse sand. These materials create air pockets within the soil, promoting better airflow and preventing water from pooling around the roots.
  4. Nutrient content: While Dioscorea elephantipes doesn’t have high nutrient requirements, a soil mix with some organic matter can provide a balanced nutrient profile. This can be achieved by adding compost or well-rotted organic material to the soil mix. However, avoid excessive nutrient-rich soils that may lead to overfertilization.
  5. pH level: Dioscorea elephantipes generally prefers a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. Most cactus or succulent mixes have a suitable pH range, but it’s always a good idea to check the product label or consult with your local garden center for specific recommendations.

Remember that proper watering practices are essential even with the right soil mix. The soil should allow water to flow through and drain out freely, preventing excess moisture retention around the roots. This helps create a healthy growing environment for Dioscorea elephantipes.

Where can I buy it?

Dioscorea elephantipes, or Elephant’s Foot/Turtle Vine, can be challenging to find in local nurseries or garden centers due to its unique and less common nature. However, you may still be able to find it through the following sources:

  1. Online plant nurseries: Many online plant nurseries specialize in rare and exotic plants, including succulents. They often have a broader selection and may carry Dioscorea elephantipes. Search for reputable online nurseries and check their inventory or contact them directly to inquire about the availability of Dioscorea elephantipes.
  2. Specialty succulent sellers: Some sellers focus specifically on succulent plants and offer a variety of rare and unusual specimens. These sellers might have Dioscorea elephantipes in their collection. Explore succulent-specific retailers online or visit local succulent fairs or exhibitions where you may find vendors selling unique succulents.
  3. Online marketplaces: Online marketplaces like Etsy, eBay, or specialized plant marketplaces can sometimes have sellers offering Dioscorea elephantipes. When purchasing from these platforms, be sure to read the seller’s reviews, check their ratings, and review their shipping and return policies before making a purchase.
  4. Plant enthusiast forums and groups: Engaging with online forums, plant communities, and social media groups dedicated to succulents and rare plants can provide valuable information and connections. Fellow enthusiasts or collectors may be willing to share or trade Dioscorea elephantipes if they have it in their collection.

Before making a purchase, it’s important to research the seller or source to ensure they have a good reputation for providing healthy and ethically sourced plants. Also, consider your location and any international or domestic shipping regulations or restrictions that may apply to plant shipments.

Keep in mind that availability can vary, and it may require some patience and persistence to find Dioscorea elephantipes for purchase.


  1. Light and temperature: Provide bright indirect sunlight and maintain a temperature range of 65-80°F (18-27°C).
  2. Watering: Water moderately during the active growing season, allowing the soil to partially dry between waterings. Reduce watering during dormancy to prevent overwatering.
  3. Soil: Use well-draining soil, such as a cactus or succulent mix enriched with perlite or pumice.
  4. Humidity: Average indoor humidity levels are suitable for Dioscorea elephantipes.
  5. Fertilizer: Apply a balanced, diluted fertilizer during the growing season, about once a month.
  6. Potting and repotting: Choose a container with drainage holes and repot only when necessary, typically every few years.
  7. Pruning and maintenance: Prune minimally, primarily removing dead or damaged leaves. Be cautious around the caudex.
  8. Dormancy: The plant undergoes a natural dormant period in fall and winter. Reduce watering and avoid fertilizing during this time.
  9. Propagation: Propagation can be challenging, but tubers or offsets can be separated and planted.
  10. Lifespan: Dioscorea elephantipes is a long-lived plant, with some specimens living for several decades or even over a century.
  11. Soil selection: Choose well-draining soil, preferably a cactus or succulent mix, and consider additives like perlite or pumice for improved drainage.
  12. Purchasing: While it may be challenging to find locally, search online plant nurseries, specialty succulent sellers, online marketplaces, and engage with plant communities to find Dioscorea elephantipes.

Remember to be patient and provide consistent care to help your Dioscorea elephantipes thrive.

Have a nice day!

Ari Iniesta

Ari Iniesta

Total posts created: 199
Hello fellow succulent enthusiast! My name is Ari Iniesta, and I'm a succulent enthusiast. I was born and raised in a small town in southern Spain, where the warm climate and dry conditions allowed me to develop a love for plants that are able to thrive in harsh environments. As I got older, my interest in succulents only grew stronger. I began to study horticulture and botany, and I even started my own collection of rare and exotic succulents from around the world.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Cookies Notice

Our website use cookies. If you continue to use this site we will assume that you are happy with this.